This qualitative study explores decision points in the careers of justice organizers. Organizing represents a cornerstone set of specialized practices by which power and participation may be promoted among poor and disenfranchised groups. Yet organizers (especially women, minorities, and working class) face challenges that can undermine their performance and sustainability. Instability in organizing careers means frequent and difficult (and understudied) decision points for organizers.
The study relies upon an interdisciplinary framework, in-depth interview responses from 14 diverse participants, archival data, and fieldwork. Accounts of overall careers and 72 decision points were examined using case induction methodology. Findings have yielded a substantive theory that describes and suggests explanations for decision point processes and outcomes.
Results suggest that personal histories and status quo factors acted upon decision points, and that decisions can be understood in terms of concurrent processes of sensemaking, decision-making, navigation of opportunity structures, and transition and transformation. The factors organizers considered at decision points, tensions and conflicts among these, diversity themes and disparities among organizers of different backgrounds, and dialectical patterns of development emerged, along with contextual influences, organizer strategies, and descriptive and evaluative output measures. Twelve types of decision points, associated with varying phases of careers, also emerged.
I have posed hypotheses about the effects of personal characteristics and histories on status quo situations and understandings, and on variance in the process and outputs of decision points. Others address direct and indirect effects of status quo, variations in the process, contextual influences, and organizer strategies on outputs. While any one decision point did not predict long-term outcomes, the effects of short-term events and circumstances may be magnified during these junctures and have a cumulative effect.
Overall, findings supported adaptive, psychosocial understandings of organizing careers. Sustainability and efficacy of organizers may depend upon achieving satisfaction, generating and devising new pathways, cultivating and economizing resources, building identity and relationships, and being adaptable and undergoing continuous transformation. Findings revealed both continued barriers facing women, working-class, and organizers of color, as well as progress in the establishment of opportunities and safe spaces to support their careers.